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Home is the sailor ...

Children and staff at St John's primary school in Perth have been learning about life on the high seas with the help of the Sea Lines scheme, writes Brian Toner.

Sea Lines is organised by the Marine Society and aims to provide personal links between schools and British seafarers around the world. The scheme was brought to the school's attention by a parent, chief officer John Marnoch, who visited his son's Primary 2 class to describe his experiences at sea on Mobil oil tankers. He thought a more permanent link might benefit the school, and suggested the Sea Lines membership.

In return for a small subscription, the school received an excellent set of charts with masses of information on marine topics such as maritime heritage, the container system and navigation. It also receives four copies a year of The Seafarer, the Marine Society's magazine which provides a wealth of articles about the sea from times present and past.

Before his voyage began, John Marnoch met the P7 class of 11-year-olds who were fascinated by stories about a life that was different from anything they had known. They were impressed that their visitor expected to be going to West Africa to journey across the Atlantic Ocean, so it was with some amusement that they learned later that he had been called to Dubai to join the tanker, the Hawk.

The class's revised plans covered journeys from Dubai to Tokyo and Singapore, through the Arabian and South China Seas to the Sea of Japan. The most immediate means of communication during the voyage was e-mail. When the first message arrived from Dubai we were astonished that the humble Apple Mac in the classroom could receive it instantly from the other side of the world.

E-mail exchanges then continued across the world while the class followed the ship's route on the map, researching geographical features that were met on the way, in places such as Sri Lanka, Borneo and Taiwan. The children began to feel that they were on the voyage, too. A scale drawing of the Hawk was made and the pupils were astonished to find that the huge tanker was equivalent to the length of Perth High Street. John Marnoch also sent us quiz questions about longitude and latitude, and time differences from Greenwich.

After four months the final e-mail arrived with a message that within 24 hours chief officer Marnoch would be standing at the school gates to collect his son. Our sailor came home, bearing presents for all and more tales of his voyage. The children particularly wanted to hear about modern-day pirates - those without eye patches -who roam the seas with speedboats and machine guns, boarding ships in search of valuables to take back to their poverty-stricken villages.

We are looking forward to our next voyage in a few months. Wherever it is, we will be able to use it to extend our knowledge of geography, to increase our expertise in computer technology, and to imagine that we are all sailing again on the high seas, thanks to Sea Lines and chief officer John Marnoch.

* Sea Lines will put schools in touch with a suitable seafarer if they do not have one in their neighbourhood. Contact Brian Thomas (head of education), at the Marine Society, 202 Lambeth Road, London SE1 7JW, tel: 0171 261 9535, or on the Internet at

Brian Toner is headteacher of St John's primary school in Perth

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